Iraq: No compulsory returns of asylum-seekers

Amnesty International's appeal comes following a recent meeting between ministers from France, Germany and the UK, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to explore possibilities for returning thousands of Iraqi asylum-seekers and refugees.

Amnesty International said:

'It could be many months, if not years, before the situation in Iraq becomes sufficiently stable and secure to allow the safe and dignified return of refugees amid a respect for all human rights.

'European governments must realise that there is no quick fix to such a massive situation of displacement.

'All parties involved in these discussions must keep in mind the ongoing human rights abuses, including the prevailing lawlessness and the palpable lack of protection for civilians.'

Amnesty International is concerned about forcing Iraqi refugees to return to a situation that is unsafe and insecure. Furthermore, the organisation warned that a return of Iraqi exiles that is not phased and co-ordinated may also hinder reconstruction efforts. Information reaching the organisation through its field presence in Iraq suggests that the situation of law and order is not stable.

Amnesty International pointed to the fact that, even 18 months after the Bonn Agreement that led to the establishment of the interim government in Afghanistan, the UNHCR has not yet started promoting the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees. Meanwhile, minorities still cannot return to the territory of Kosovo almost four years after the military intervention by NATO.

Amnesty International said:

'The US and UK occupation does not in itself guarantee a safe, dignified and voluntary return of all displaced people to their homes.

'Host countries must ensure that Iraqis do not return in circumstances that would lead to their internal displacement or that would result in them being forced to flee again.'

Security Council resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003 stipulates the need for a safe, orderly and voluntary repatriation of displaced Iraqis. The Special Representative for Iraq of the UN's Secretary General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, stressed last month the importance of allowing the situation in the whole of Iraq to stabilise before any return, and asked governments hosting Iraqi refugees and asylum-seekers to be patient.

Amnesty International does not oppose a return of rejected asylum-seekers provided they have had access to a fair and satisfactory asylum procedure and that their return can take place in safety, dignity and with full respect for human rights .

Background

On 30 May, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers met the UK's Home Secretary David Blunkett, the French Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy and the German Minister of the Interior Otto Schily in Geneva. David Blunkett warned that compulsion could be used this year if other incentives to return did not work. Ruud Lubbers said the UNHCR would make a clear assessment on the extent to which return can be promoted within three to four weeks. A follow-up meeting is planned for late June.

Iraq is one of the largest source countries for refugees in the world. Up to two million Iraqis are estimated to be living in exile in addition to nearly one million displaced persons inside Iraq's borders. In 2002 alone, more than 50,000 Iraqi nationals applied for asylum in industrialised countries.

Relevant information

Afghanistan/Refugees: Forthcoming EU returns programme criticised - press release, 6 May 2003: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=14512

UK: Asylum - Figures show Iraqis need protection and systems needs support, not undermining - press release, 28 February 2003: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=195 /p>

UK: Asylum - Dismay at ill-founded remarks on refugee protection and detention - press release, 28 January 2003: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=14317 /p>

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